In the Ventura County Star, Timm Herdt offers a devastating takedown of California’s costly, low-turnout special elections to fill frequent openings in the legislature, as politicians play musical chairs.
He writes that political shuffling has set up, so far this year, as many as 13 special legislative elections. They cost $800,000 or so each and almost no one votes in them; among the six conducted so far, average turnout was 16.4 percent, with a low of 9.1 percent.
Timm concludes: “Looking at the numbers, here’s an observation: These elections are an absurd waste of money and, because of the paltry voter turnout, make a mockery of democracy.”
So what to do? Herdt makes the sort of argument that often eludes California’s would-be reformers – why don’t we do what other states do?
There are 23 states that don’t do these sorts of elections. They have an appointment process. As Timm lays it out:
- “In 11 states, the governor makes an appointment, choosing from a list supplied either by party officials from the same party as the departed legislator, or from county elected officials. In all cases, the successor must be from the same party as the person he or she is replacing.
- “In 12 states, party officials acting on their own or in concert with local elected officials can fill a vacancy created by someone from their party.”
Either way would be an improvement on California’s system. We also could construct a blend of the two, because, you know, we like to be different.
I also think this problem is yet another reason why California should ditch single-member districts and instead go with regional, multi-member legislative districts. In a multi-member system, voters themselves could select at least some representatives by voting for a party lists of candidates. (This doesn’t much reduce choice, since almost everyone votes by party anyway).
In a party list system, there’s an easy way to replace people who leave – just select the next person down the winning list from the most recent election. Essentially, in this method, voters themselves (and not an appointing body) would pre-select the successors of departing legislatures via elections, without the expense of another election.
Whatever solution, Herdt is right – this is a problem that needs fixing.